Review for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Sometimes a synapse in my brain fires at random, which sends me to my nearest Internet connection to place an order. I get a flash of memory of a show or movie that I watched, or maybe partially watched on TV, and I recall enjoying it, and I get an urge to finally watch it in its entirety. It’s been maybe 10 years since I saw half of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang... Bang Bang if you would have it, and I was determined to watch the rest of it as soon as possible. Watching Shane Black’s The Nice Guys did remind me of this film, but it still took another four years to actually place the order. I shouldn’t have waited so long...
Harry Lockhart is a petty thief who has to leave New York in a hurry, expedited when he runs from the police straight into a movie audition, which he nails by accident. Now he’s in Los Angeles, being wined and dined, and attending parties being thrown by the rich and powerful, and shadowing a private detective named “Gay” Perry to learn how to be a detective for the role. He also runs into childhood crush and wannabe star Harmony Faith Lane. It was all going so well, then a surveillance job with Perry winds up in a lake, pulling the corpse of young woman out of the trunk of a car, and now everyone’s trying to kill them.
I think this might be why I waited so long to pull the trigger on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It dates from that period when Warner Brothers were doing as little as possible with their back catalogue titles on Blu-ray, essentially taking the HD master that the DVD used, and sticking it on HD media (this film also saw an HD-DVD release), using the same DVD extras too. If you’re buying Blu-ray, you’ll probably want a little more than that. Still, the film’s 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer looks good enough, clear and sharp with consistent colours (although rigorously colour timed throughout), and with great detail, and no obvious issues. Unfortunately, audio is limited to lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround English, French, and German with subtitles in these languages. There is also a DD 2.0 English Audio Descriptive track. The surround is immersive and effective in bringing across the action, and emphasising the music. Other than a couple of mumbles, the dialogue is clear, and subtitles are available when it is not.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray case. The film autoplays on insertion, and there is no main menu screen. You can access the audio options and extra features from the pop-up menu, and after the film ends, a static menu page appears which lists the extras as follows.
Commentary with Val Kilmer, Robert Downey Jr. and Shane Black
Gag Reel (4:19)
Theatrical Trailer (2:16)
These extras were missing from the original UK DVD, so I guess it’s a step up in that regard.
Robert Downey Jr. is one of the biggest movie stars around thanks to the MCU films, and it’s easy to think it’s always been thus, getting nominated for an Academy Award way back in 1992 for Chaplin. It’s easy to forget now that he very publicly plummeted from fame towards the end of the nineties. He could very easily have remained persona non grata after that, but Mel Gibson (with who he starred in Air America) reminded us of his talent in the Hollywood adaptation of The Singing Detective. Two years after that, this Shane Black vehicle, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang reminded us that RDJ is a movie star. Two years later he was in the Iron Man suit, and the rest as they say is geography.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a modern take on the film noir buddy detective thriller, subverting the very clichés that Shane Black had established in films like Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout. The masterstroke here is to make the character of Harry Lockhart the film’s narrator, and an unreliable narrator at that. It makes the story more of an urban fable, a ride that the audience becomes complicit with. It’s easy for a narration to drag a film’s pace down, but a narration that actually adds energy, wit, and style to an already great film is rare indeed.
Also a 2005, mainstream action movie with a gay main character was pretty groundbreaking, especially a character that avoids the crass clichés. Of course society moves so fast that what was groundbreaking 20 years ago may seem out of touch today, but Perry is a strong character with agency, and teaming up with Harry you get the kind of abrasive antagonism that you’d expect from this kind of film, which really lights up the screen. Throw in the kind of femme fatale in Harmony, that keeps Perry, and especially Harry off balance, and you have the kind of dynamic among the protagonists that makes for a very entertaining film.
That’s even before you get to the story, which is a compelling mystery, populated by a host of odd characters, and Hollywood weird parties and locations. The story switches and flips at the drop of a hat, and never takes the expected route. If you’re going to be petty, you could say that it is predictable in its unpredictability, but that would be being petty indeed.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of my favourite movies. The story is really great, and the characters are even better. It’s a mainstream studio movie with an independent movie feel, and I can’t think of any flaw or criticism that I can point to. The Blu-ray really is an afterthought though, and the film really does deserve better than this. At least the image is in HD.